MEDIA RELEASE: Time To Stop The Privacy Trainwrecks

News that Facebook has given away personal information about many Australians is a reminder that we need businesses, governments and political parties to be accountable.

Australians need better privacy protection. They can get that without a lot of pain, money or fuss. The Australian Privacy Foundation – on behalf of all Australians – calls on the national Government to act without delay. The trainwrecks are going to keep happening until organisations are persuaded that they must be responsible.

You don’t need to leave Facebook (although many are doing so). You don’t need to despair about privacy. You do need to tell your MP and Senators that enough is enough.

A good start for fixing Australian law is to introduce the privacy tort that has been recommended by a succession of law reform bodies. The tort enables people whose privacy has been wrongly disregarded to take the offender to court and gain compensation. There’s nothing like the prospect of being shamed and handing over money to persuade lazy big business and arrogant government.

Another start is to strengthen the national Privacy Commissioner. It’s taken 15 days for the OAIC to move in response to this privacy trainwreck. It’s an under-resourced and timid agency that responds slowly and weakly whenever there’s a problem. In a world where Facebook and other businesses disregard their responsibilities it’s time to put a tiger in the privacy tank. Time for the Commissioner to do what Australians expect it to do: Protect everyone from abuses. Carry a big stick (and use it, quickly, on big cheaters who don’t respond to anything less).

We can look overseas, where the New Zealand Privacy Commissioner has strongly condemned Facebook for disregarding New Zealand privacy law. New Zealand isn’t frightened of the biggest bully on the social media block. Nor should we. Problems are going to keep happening until we do something to prevent them.

Facebook makes money in Australia. Lots of money. It makes money using the friendliness, interest and curiosity of people like you. The Australian Privacy Foundation is happy for Facebook and its competitors to make money. It insists, however, that Facebook takes care with information about Australians.

The scale of Facebook’s breach of the public trust is still not yet fully known. First we were told that 50 million users data had been harvested. NThen we’re told the figure is closer to 87 million, including over 300,000 Australians. What figure will we be told next week, when Zuckerberg testifies before the US Congress? Now we hear it could be thousands of millions who were exposed to the deliberate flaws that allowed capture and exfiltration by third parties, with who knows how many Australians affected.

It’s time for Facebook to recognise that it is a custodian rather than owner of data. That recognition involves a meaningful acknowledgement of wrongdoing when it has failed in its duty as a responsible custodian. It also requires regulators and politicians to say enough is enough.

Contacts:

David Vaile, Chair0414 731 249David.Vaile@privacy.org.au
Liam Pomfret(07) 3346 1654Liam.Pomfret@privacy.org.au
Bruce Baer Arnold(02) 6201 2710Bruce.Arnold@privacy.org.au